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HSRA is an advocacy group working to bring fast, frequent trains to North America. We don’t operate trains or sell train tickets.
What is high-speed rail?
There is no fixed definition of high speed rail. It can be loosely defined as trains operating at speeds of at least 125 mph, with the fastest modern trains reaching speeds of about 220 mph. HSR is also defined by dedicated tracks and separated grade crossings, which dramatically reduce delays. And HSR is almost always part of a network of conventional and commuter trains, as well as transit systems. When all of these pieces are tightly coordinated and working in harmony, HSR creates a paradigm shift in travel options.
What is the world’s fastest train?
Short answer: China’s Beijing to Shanghai line, which reaches a peak speed of 350 km/h (217 mph), is the fastest train running on a regular schedule. It covers roughly the distance from Chicago to New York in a little over four hours—making it equal to a flight when the airport rigamarole is factored in. The train is also far more comfortable and produces far fewer carbon emissions. France holds the record for the fastest demonstration train. In 2007, its national railway ran a train at more than 357 mph. Watch the video here. The U.S. has also been an innovator in high-speed rail. In 1967, for example, a TurboTrain built by United Aircraft Corporation reached nearly 171 mph—the still-standing world record for gas turbine powered rail vehicles.
It seems weird that the U.S. doesn’t have high-speed trains already. Why is that?
What gets built depends on what we incentivize, and we’ve incentivized roads and airports through massive public funding and tax breaks. But we’ve given railroads—which are owned by private companies in the U.S.—few incentives to offer or improve passenger rail service. The result is our out-of-whack transportation system, in which federal highway spending leads to ever-more roads and lanes and bridges, which makes traffic congestion ever-worse. Meantime, train options remain a low priority for many legislators. Although they would both help solve the congestion problem and reduce our carbon footprint, they don’t have the same political muscle (i.e., lobbyists) behind them as roads and airports. That’s why a strong show of grassroots support is crucial.
Isn't the U.S. too big for trains? They work best in compact countries like Japan and France, right?
Not really. Those countries prove that high-speed rail can be transformative, but that has nothing to do with the length of their rail lines. And, in any case, many of the lines in countries often cited as “right” for HSR are much longer than most people imagine. Japan’s main line, for example, covers the distance from Boston to Orlando. And China has connected most of its major cities, with a network that would strech from Miami to Boston and New York to Ohama.
What’s important isn’t the size of the country but the will to invest in bold, visionary projects. Building railroads that connected the U.S. from shore to shore in the 19th century was a much bolder and more daunting project—in every way—than doing so with high-speed rail now. But because the U.S. had a vision for the critical role that railroads would play in connecting the country and boosting the economy, we found the will and the money to build them. But that was the 19th century.
Why do we even need trains in the 21st century? Why not just fly or drive?
When Americans actually experience high-speed rail, the question answers itself. HSR vastly improves the travel experience on nearly every measure. It’s cheaper and more comfortable than flying or driving. It’s far safer and quicker than driving, and it beats (or is competitive with) flight times on trips up to about 1,000 miles. And in an era of intensifying climate change, it has the lowest carbon footprint—by far—of the three options.
I heard that California killed its high-speed rail project. What happened?
Many media outlets falsely reported that California Gov. Gavin Newsom had “pulled the plug” on the project in early 2019, but California’s high-speed rail project is moving forward as planned. The first phase—the Central Valley line running from Bakersfield to Merced—is expected to be in operation by 2028. In a February 2019 speech, Newsom reaffirmed the state’s commitment to building the Central Valley segment and to moving forward with the environmental reviews required for the full Bay Area to Los Angeles line. He also said that there was not “a path to get from . . . San Francisco to LA.” But that has always been true: Funding sources for the full line are still to be determined. Newsom promised to keep working to secure those funds in the same speech in which he supposedly killed the project.California’s high-speed rail project is a major focus of HSRA’s work. Read more here.
So how do I join HSRA?
You’ll become a member by donating any amount here.
What do you do with my money?
We inform, organize, and give voice to the broad coalition of people who want fast, frequent trains in North America. That means we work with state legislators and members of Congress on bills that fund passenger rail and transit systems, and we support high-speed rail projects being planned or now underway—California’s project in particular.
We are currently prioritizing the transportation reauthorization bill that Congress will begin debating in late 2020. More funding for trains in the bill is crucial to the future of passenger rail service in the U.S.
Please sign our petition here.
In addition that nuts-and-bolts work, we create a vision and a path forward for what high-speed rail can look like in the United States.
People unfamiliar with it often think of HSR as just a set of tracks and trains that connect two major destinations. But when it’s done well, HSR is just one part of a tightly coordinated system that includes passenger rail, commuter rail, and buses—all working in sync.
HSR isn’t transformative just because it moves people between cities several times faster than a car or a conventional train. It’s transformative because it improves and multiplies the value of even conventional trains and transit systems. That means it connects and ties together whole regions, not just two endpoint cities. At the same time, it takes lots of cars off the roads.
So we work to educate people about the true scope of HSR’s impact and its full range of benefits.